This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

I teach in a full-time intensive AEC day program called “Computerized Financial Management” and Google Docs has been great little tool with important advantages for teaching business communication and group work in my classes. I used to be completely unapologetic about using this resource, but recent changes to Google’s privacy policies and tighter integration of data collection across all Google’s products are making me have second thoughts.

Google Docs in Plain English

Google Docs – A Great Classroom Resource

Nonetheless, I still have some pretty good reasons for being enthusiastic about the Google universe. For one thing, I find that students have a lot of trouble understanding that you need to make revisions. You just don’t produce a perfect document on the first try; you need to draft and revise until you don’t see the changes anymore, and then you have a final document. Some students imagine that they sit down and break their heads for an hour or three and the document they have as their first draft is their final draft.

One of the things we can do instead of having them come to the school for group meetings is to allow them to use Google Docs.

To break them of that habit, I use Google Docs. The key is that they share their document with me. They submit it, and I comment. I say, Okay you’re on the right track. This is not clear to me, and I think you should rewrite this part here. Perhaps, you could reorganize this section here. And I send it back to them. I comment at least once on their document asynchronously, and then I make them partner up with somebody who reviews the documents in a series of exercises that engage them in collaborative work. They come to understand that the document that they thought was final could benefit from further revision.

Another reason I use Google Docs in Business Administration is because our students in the AEC intensive program are often adults with tight schedules who have somewhere between thirty and forty hours weekly of classes and then homework. One of the things we can do instead of having them come to the school for group meetings is to allow them to use Google Docs. They can make a report for a group project online without actually having to physically meet. They get online at the same time and work on a document, as well as chatting simultaneously.

Someone creates the document, shares it with the group, and they can all get together and work on it synchronously, rewrite the document, chat with each other and talk about what they’re doing, or they can leave it asynchronous and just log on when they want and make changes. When a person logs on, they see what changes were made while they were gone. Of course, you can also invite the teacher. If I’m online, and there’s somebody there to chat with, I can chat with them about their progress.

In order for the current user to see what changes were made, there’s a revision list. A student can make changes, and you can roll back the document. You have a whole history of the document and how it was built. What different people changed comes up when you hover the pointer over something. As a teacher the revision feature is great as well, because you can really see if someone in a group is slacking which is vital in assessing the individual contribution of each student. There’s a time stamp on almost everything that happens although I think the chat disappears once a session ends.

Grading group projects is a whole issue on its own. Basically the mark is made of four components. Students get a mark for the final result from me. And, they do a self-assessment where they evaluate whether they reached their own objectives. How would you rate yourself? – I exceeded my expectations, things like that. Not only do they give themselves a grade, they also rate their group interaction. The group agrees consensually on this mark. I also ask students to assess the other members of the team which is the fourth aspect to the grade. I often find that students are less generous with themselves than I am. People worry that if you let the students mark themselves, everybody gets a 100, but I don’t see that.

Asking Students to Consider Changes in Google’s Privacy Policies

I used to require students to use Google Docs for some exercises, and I have more trouble with that now. I used to say, We’ll invent some kind of temporary account for the sake of this exercise, and afterwards just don’t use that account. I won’t assign a Google exercise to students these days before we have a discussion with the students about Google’s policies. I’ve never had a student refuse to try Google Docs, but I’m concerned more now that students could be uncomfortable with Google’s privacy protection.

I won’t assign a Google exercise to students these days before we have a discussion with the students about Google’s policies.

Before the recent changes I felt comfortable to present Google Docs as a course requirement. Many students would nod their heads and do what they were used to, but I could force the issue by not accepting a written report, and insisting that they share their work with me in Google Docs.

If Google wants to collect information and sell it to advertisers in return for a great tool, I’m kind of okay with that, but there’s a greater integration of everything that Google does now. They are giving users less chance to opt out. I’m wondering if I will still be using Google products after March 1. Meanwhile, what tools are you using? Are there any drawbacks? Do you have any difficulty monitoring student progress? I am searching around for other tools that have fewer problems for me with their privacy policy. Looking at my students’ compacency, I wonder whether I’m overreacting.

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Alex Enkerli
Alex Enkerli
2 December 2014 21h51

Etherpad (the basis for Google Wave) is another option. Both it and GDocs are integrated in Canvas:

One solution to this issue could be Google Apps for Education, which has clear rules on data ownership (but still shares Google’s Privacy Policy).
As with most tools, it’s important to ensure that learners have agency. One notion is that we should provide alternative methods. It even connects to Universal Design for Learning, in some ways. Maybe GDocs could be used by most students but alternatives are allowed.